Thursday, July 31, 2014

Legalize It - Or Not

It's all over. Marijuana will be legalized. There's no need for further debate. Why? Because the New York Times says it's time. Okay, not the paper as a whole, but the six-part series on why the prohibition of Mary Jane certainly lets us know where the editorial board stands. Or leans, with goofy grin and a glazed look in their collective eyes. "We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition." Two big snaps in a zig-zag formation. 
Of course there will still be debate. That's what we do when we're not smoking dope. We argue about smoking dope. That's the thing that's pretty cool about most dope smokers. They don't tend to argue much. They would be happy if everyone just sat down and relaxed a little bit. To that end, the Times pointed to the bill passed last year by Colorado Representative Jared Polis that moved to eliminate Marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. The irony being that this would actually invite even more control, in terms of taxing and regulating the sale of weed. Only this would put the onus back on the states who would then control the way pot is bought and sold, in the same way that alcohol was returned to legality back in the twenties. 
If that all seems like a lot of work, remember that it's taken forty years for the Controlled Substances Act to wear a little thin, and eighty years since the states all decided to declare pot illegal. And even though the ladies on "The View" are still debating whether or not marijuana is a "gateway drug," as is Stephen Colbert. The discussion inside the New York Times seems to be over. They point to a "changing sentiment" in Congress. 
Of course, the liberal rag that is the Gray Lady has a history of taking up all kinds of crazy left-wing causes, like being against Stand Your Ground laws and the Vietnam War. So, go ahead and start your clock, or at least your sundial, and let's see how long it takes the rest of the country to take up the slack. You know, or not. Whatever. It's cool. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


In early June, I made the decision to skip a trip to Los Angeles to attend the opening of the documentary that was made about me and a group of bloggers discovered by a computer scientist. It turned out to be a bigger deal than I had expected it to be, to me anyway. The idea that there was a movie someplace being projected that included me and my musings felt like some sort of bizarre extension of what happens here on this blog once a day. Why wouldn't I want to go see it. Well, as it often turns out, I had my reasons. None of them were particularly good, and the best thing that came of it was my good friend and confidante in Southern California did attend and she told me how wonderful I looked and how inspiring everything I had to say sounded.
It made me wish that I had been there.
Since then, I have been trying to figure out a way to see the whole thing, not just the promotional trailer or the purloined bits of footage my friend captured from her seat way down front. That was the stuff that just made me even more curious about how I might appear. Would I be like those people who show up on the Daily Show to be interviewed without a sense of just how ridiculous their own words make them appear. Would I come off as some sort of obsessive compulsive freak. Am I some sort of obsessive compulsive freak? Isn't this exactly the kind of thing that obsessive compulsive freaks obsess on compulsively?
As it turns out, I do not have the answer to that question, but I was finally given the opportunity to take in the film, in all its glory thanks to a link sent to me by the computer scientist who started this whole line of questioning. It just so happens that I was on a trip to the bottom of our state when the email came, and when I found myself in the living room of a friend with a big screen TV that could take downloaded video and show it larger than life, I sat back on the couch with my family and friends and let it play.
I was struck by how much I anticipated the scenes in which I appeared. It's not a movie about me alone. It's about a group of people who write about themselves with impressive, or is that alarming, frequency. I am one of those. When I did show up, I found it hard to listen to what I had to say. Instead I focused on the way the vein on the left side of my head seemed to be pulsing as I rambled on about this or that. I was also acutely aware of the fact that I had chosen not to wear shoes that day. I was glad that I picked a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt to wear, but was it the right Bruce shirt to show my fanatical devotion?
And then it was over. We had learned all there was to know about megabloggers, or at least as much as could fit in the twenty-or-so minutes of the documentary. It didn't tell my whole story. That's still going on. Right here where I can ramble on day after day, barefooted, Springsteen-shirted, vein throbbing away on the side of my head. I just don't have to look at it.
And as uncomfortable as it sounds that I was, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. That makes me a narcissistic obsessive compulsive, right?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Red Glare

To say that I was walking home would be a misstatement, since what I was actually doing was heading back to the motel where my family and I were staying for a couple of nights. We had come here to take a break. We had come here to take a break from our family's most recent chore: selecting a college for our son. After driving across the greater Los Angeles area, visiting a number of different institutions, we had landed in Anaheim for a day of Disney before pressing on in what has become something of an obsession: finding the right school.
I chose to walk back, allowing my wife and son to find their own way via the parking lot tram that gave them a few minutes more vehicular transport. Having spent the bulk of the day in the back of the family car, I was happy to stretch my legs, even in the oppressive evening southern California heat. As I came over the rise, the fireworks began.
I have seen my share of fireworks shows, from far away and up close in the Magic Kingdom, but now I found myself walking past the launch area just behind Toontown. I was directly beneath the blast area. I could hear the mortars roar as each shell flew into the sky. There was no delay between the flash and the explosion that ricocheted across the street, rattling the steel beams of the parking structure. I didn't have time to flinch. It was happening right above me and as I continued to walk, it felt that I was going further into the blast zone, rather than away from it.
I remembered putting my hands over my son's ears when he was tiny. His fascination with "fireworkers" wouldn't allow him to look away from the flashes of color exploding across the sky, but he was terrified of the noise. That was a long time ago.
Now I was back at our motel, waiting for the rest of my family to meet me at our home away from home. I was consumed with the thought we had been sharing earlier that evening: We were looking for a new home for my son. It was possible that earlier that day we had been looking at dorms where my son could be setting up housekeeping in another year. Then I was aware of the concussion of each new blast in the sky above me. Now they were pounding back against the facade of the motel. I could feel each one like a blow to the head. They were taking my breath away. This was happening at the same time that I was reckoning with my son's pending departure. I felt it each time the night lit up and I was pushed back just the tiniest bit by what was happening up above me. I felt the physics. I felt the distance. I could not remember feeling sad at a fireworks show.
I was glad when the smoke started to clear. My wife and son returned and we shared our experiences of the trek from Disney under fire. It was good to have everyone together again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Smile, Though Your Heart Is Aching

If you're like me (and if you're not why are you reading this blog), you might think that an "Auschwitz Selfie" is an obscure act of sexual perversion. That would be the funny bit, where we weren't asking for a cultural judgement on Breanna Mitchell, who posted a picture of herself at the infamous Nazi death camp. Smiling. The outrage that has been stirred because of this one photograph is notable, since the story behind it was never fully known until long after the offending picture was cast upon the murky waters of Al Gore's Internet. From what I was able to gather, it seems that Breanna's expression was the biggest issue. Happy Face in Death Camp is not an equation that most of us are able to make sense of in our daily flip through our news clips.
The fact that she was making this trip to Europe a year after her father died, the man with whom she had studied the history of World War II, was not enough for most to excuse the big grin in conjunction with The Big Lie. She was honoring her late father, but was she respecting the millions who died in the Holocaust? If only she hadn't been smiling, would that have made a difference?
If I were asked (and in case you are new to this blog and you don't get the rhythm, no one really does), I would say that the problem was that she posted the picture at all. We are a generation, with another one coming fast behind us, that takes great pride in our ability to insinuate ourselves into history. We can photoshop, bomb, instagram and publish our faces happy or sad onto the World Wide Webs. The words you are reading now are being hung out there to compete with all those other voices that claim to know just what is right or wrong with any particular question. Israel? Health care? Public education? I've got an answer for them all. I have access to a keyboard and I'm not afraid to use it.
Of course, maybe I should be. I never know exactly when I will step on the metaphorical toes of someone who happens to stumble on this page while searching for the truth about Ms. Mitchell or the hidden meaning behind "Auschwitz Selfie." I don't know what the truth is, outside of these mild constraints. As it turns out, the truth is not as objective as we were lead to believe. I do believe, however, that I will keep my vacation snapshots on the downlow. Smiling or not.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Mouth That Roared - Again

Forrest Gump's mama knew it: "Stupid is as stupid does." Forrest is not a smart man, but he knows what love is. But does he know what "legitimate rape" is? Todd Akin does.
You remember Todd Akin. He's the former congressman from Missouri's second district. He's the guy who came up with the distinction, "legitimate rape." It's not a phrase that immediately makes sense, so I'll let Todd explain it: “It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” Former congressman Akin is not a doctor, but he said he understands these things from doctors. Understands. This is much in the same way he "understands" climate change. "This whole thing strikes me, if it weren’t so serious, as being a comedy, you know. I mean, we just went from winter to spring. In Missouri, when we go from winter to spring, that’s a good climate change. I don’t want to stop that climate change, you know. So, and who in the world would want to put politicians in charge of the weather anyway? What a dumb idea." Maybe that's how he got his spot on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Not that he's a doctor. Or a scientist. Or an astronaut. He's just a guy. 
Especially now that he's not a congressman anymore. He's an author. His book is called "Firing Back," which is what Mister Akin is doing. He wants to explain that whole "legitimate rape" thing once and for all. “Obviously no rape is legitimate,” Akin told Yahoo in an interview. “It's a serious, serious crime. But legitimate rape is a law enforcement term for legitimate case of rape. Rape is not legitimate, it’s the particular circumstances.” Apparently Todd is no longer considering a career in medicine. Now he's an expert in law enforcement.
Or maybe he's just interested in not being viewed as a chowderhead for the rest of recorded history. In that endeavor, he hopes that he can spin his comments into support for conservative candidates from his party who want to protect the sanctity of life. Or something like that. He points to the way the Democratic Party lauds Bill Clinton in spite of his sexual escapades, and just because he says a few ridiculously stupid things, he's branded as an outcast. What's up with that? Does that seem legitimate to you?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

How Can I Help?

Thank goodness Jerry called. Apparently, since the last time Microsoft Security called me, there have been quite a number of error messages being sent to their server. Jerry wanted me to know that if I would just cooperate with him, there would be a quick fix to this issue.
Of course, I had to believe Jerry. He knew that I was running a Microsoft computer in my home. Or did he ask that? I hate to sound culturally insensitive, but his rather impressive Middle Eastern accent made some of his questions difficult to understand. Once I was able to make some sense of what Jerry was asking me, I tried very hard to answer him. "What are you seeing on your screen?"
"It looks like Monument Valley. There's some snow on the mountains in the background."
"No, no, no," Jerry sighed. He changed his tack, "Do you see your keyboard?"
"Do you see on the left hand side a key that says C-T-R-L?"
"Yeah," I said helpfully, "What does that button do?"
Jerry pressed on, "Next to that key is one that has what looks like a little flag?"
"Yes. What does that one do?" Now I was very curious.
There was another sigh. I was testing Jerry's patience. "Do you see on the lower left hand corner of your screen a -"
"Hey!" I enthused, "It looks just like that button you had me find a second ago."
From there, it only got more complicated. I was having a hard time following Jerry's directions, and at one point he even had me open up my smart phone. I told him I didn't have a really smart phone, since it didn't connect to the Internet. That's about the time I thought that Jerry had hung up. When I heard something on the line, it didn't sound like English.
Another long pause. Another sigh. Jerry was back. "You understand these errors you are sending are making prostitution and human trafficking."
"Wow. That's some kind of error. How does my computer make prostitution and human trafficking?"
The line went dead again. This time, Jerry didn't come back. He had hung up. Now I'll never know how my Microsoft computer is helping to make human trafficking possible. I guess I'll just have to wait for him to call back.

Friday, July 25, 2014

No Reason To Panic

You may remember the Westboro Baptist Church. They are the ones who routinely show up to picket funerals for fallen soldiers, insisting that God killed them. They're a pretty radical group, in a rabble-rousing sort of way. They're also a pretty whacked-out nutjob kind of group in a crazy insane kind of way. Most recently, members of their congregation got together to let the world know that the downing of the Malaysian Airlines jet was also all a part of God's plan. Their reasoning being that there were more than one hundred AIDS researchers on board that flight, and if it wasn't a Russian rocket that knocked that jet out of the sky, it was most surely a bolt out of the blue.
My guess is that a truck running over a dozen of Westboro's faithful would also be spun into some sort of gift from the Big Guy. It's all a part of God's Will. It could be that flying so high in the sky could be disrespecting Him. Or it could be that the only way to keep getting their faces and signs in newspapers and TV and all over Al Gore's Internet is to keep saying the most vile and ridiculous junk imaginable. They are especially fond of picketing at funerals. Dead soldiers are good, but dead rock stars are even better.
Of course, they don't have to be dead, either. Panic At The Disco recently got the Westboro treatment, mostly on account of lead singer Brandon Urie's open discussion of his bisexual experiences. And maybe he once thought about joining the Marines. It's hard to say just what the "minds" behind the WBC had in mind, but Urie and his band decided to take matters into their own hands by declaring that they would contribute twenty dollars to the Human Rights Campaign for each pinhead who showed up with a sign. The more the merrier, after all. When only thirteen protesters showed up, two hundred and sixty dollars didn't seem sufficient, so they rolled it up to an even one thousand dollars. A good day's work, or like that old joke about the bus full of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean, maybe it's just a good start.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Black Dog

I don't run past this particular house every single day. With the vagaries of my schedule,  would imagine that I only pass by two or three times a week. That might explain the reaction of the dog in the front yard. This black dog has made it her personal mission to let me know when I am a few feet from approaching her line of sight and will keep barking at me until I am once again out of her view. Sometimes, when I am lost in a thought or enjoying whatever song has come up on the shuffle of my iPod, I forget that I am about to enter the doggie danger zone and I am surprised by the somewhat ferocious attention I receive. Just enough to knock me slightly off my normal stride, but mostly I just keep going. After years of making this same loop, I have become accustomed to this interaction. It has even spread down the block just a bit, as a new yard full of puppies now take up black dog's complaint as I run past their fence. They aren't nearly as concerned or vicious, but they seem to want some of the same attention as black dog. Or maybe it's part of the neighborhood alert system.
That's what I used to believe when our dog, Maddie, used to make a fuss about strangers walking past our house. She would get her back up and rush back and forth on her side of the wooden slats that kept her from being any more involved in the security of her home. "Hey," she would yelp, "the mailman is outside the gate for the three thousandth time and I want everyone within the sound of my voice to know it!" Like the ubiquitous car alarm, her alert became part of the sound tapestry of our lives. If one of us was nearby, we might admonish her and tell her that the mail carrier was our friend and we should treat him or her as a guest and not an interloper. Of course, living in our urban setting, having a dog that would let us know when there was a stranger in our midst or a fire in the barn was essentially a good thing. She was the Neighborhood Watch Dog.
Of course, I also knew her secret. I knew that once someone was inside the fence, she was everyone's friend. Not that the U.S. Post Office wanted to find out. We were once warned to keep our dog under control or we might stop getting home delivery. Our UPS guy got it. He and Maddie became close over the years, and there weren't many deliveries when he didn't stop and have a little fetch or tug of war with his puppy pal. This is what went through my mind as I rounded the corner a few days back. I heard the black dog bark before I saw her. She started to run along her side of the fence, making ferocious sounds. Until I stopped. She stopped in her tracks and blinked. This was not part of our rhythm. I waited. I hoped that she might even come back to the fence to take a sniff of this confounding new reality, but she kept her distance. "Okay then," I told her, "I'll see you again in a few days." No barking.
Not until I got down the block and the little watch dogs to be started in. I stopped at their pen, and waited for their leader to put his nose up to the back of my hand. No fear. Just a welcome. I looked back up the street to see if black dog was watching. She wasn't. She had, no doubt, retreated to her spot on the porch where she would wait for my return. Maybe next time I'll bring Snausages.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Making It Look Easy

If I were to pick a guy to look into how and where Casey Kasem's body disappeared, I believe I would have picked Jim Rockford. Alas, Jim is busy with other matters of a more metaphysical nature currently, having just passed on himself. James Garner rang down the curtain this past weekend at the age of eighty-six. A good solid lifetime, but still not nearly enough for some of us who grew up with his assured demeanor and wizened smirk. If all Mister Garner had ever done was to help get one of the coolest TV theme songs on the air, that would have been sufficient.
For me, James Garner was an action star who acted like he had stumbled into the job after he had been turned away from romantic comedies. Which is about right. Of course, he got his start on the back of a horse, that's what his Oklahoma home gave him. I didn't discover Bret Maverick for some time, but it was the double feature of "Support Your Local Sheriff" and "Support Your Local Gunfighter" that first captured my attention. This was a guy who defined "easy-going" for me. Staring down a bunch of desperadoes was simple enough when you appeared so unimpressed with them. Jim just waited around for one of them to do something dumb, and if he's the sheriff, he just walks them over to the jail. A jail without bars, I should hasten to add. It looked so easy.
Watching him with Doris Day took a little more patience. His job here was to be confounded by the zaniness that being involved with Doris Day entails. I was much happier to have James Garner roll his eyes and look impatient with the goings-on. Many years later, that's what he got to do in "Murphy's Romance." A leading man at fifty-seven, not that he made a big deal about it. Not a lot of guys got to woo both Doris Day and Sally Field. Not Burt Reynolds.
Mostly I recall how relaxed James Garner always seemed. Nowhere was this more evident than the commercials he did with Mariette Hartley for Polaroid. They were acting, but a whole lot of people believed these two were married in real life. It was just that natural. And that's what I'll miss the most about James Garner. Naturally relaxed easy-going movie star. Nice work, if you can get it. Aloha, James. You stomped on the Terra.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Six million dollars is a lot of money. Six hundred million dollars is a lot more money. That's lottery type money. Super Lotto type money. Powerball type money. Now go ahead and drop twenty-three billion dollars on top of that. Twenty-three billion and six hundred million. Dollars. Now we're talking about government type money. That's the kind of money a Florida jury wants R.J. Reynolds to pay in damages to the widow of a longtime smoker who died in 1996. Cynthia Robinson received this award in addition to the sixteen million dollars she received in compensatory damages. On that scale, that might seem like chump change, but it isn't. It's part of a much bigger picture.
Ms. Robinson is the first in a series of individual lawsuits brought against big tobacco after a class action suit for one hundred forty-five billion dollars was tossed out by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006. So now, instead of one trial for a hundred billion dollars, there are thousands of individuals lined up for the opportunity to get themselves a chunk of change. In order to participate, one need only prove addiction and that smoking caused the illness or death.
Some things that may need to be mentioned here: As late as 1994, R.J. Reynolds' CEO testified under oath in front of Congress that he didn't believe tobacco was addictive. Even now, their web site insists that "Nicotine in tobacco products is addictive but is not considered a significant threat to health." That comes right after the assertion that "Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States." So, follow their logic: Nicotine, which is found in cigarettes, is not a threat to health, even though it is found in cigarettes which are the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It's the same brain trust that had to fork over fifteen million dollars in fines for handing out cigarettes at events attended by children.
And now, just a little more math: The average price per pack of cigarettes is five dollars. A pack-a-day habit will run you about eighteen hundred dollars a year. There's forty-two million of you, so all of a sudden the numbers start to add up. Billions of dollars are out there to be had, and if you really want to get a piece of that action, just get yourself addicted and if you can afford those chest x-rays, you're on the fast track to big money! Good luck with that.

Monday, July 21, 2014

To A Muse

Most of the time, my wife and I agree about the movies that we see together. Sometimes we don't. I was reminded of this the other night when we passed by Albert Brooks' "The Muse." First of all, I understand that Albert Brooks is an acquired taste and I had already made up my mind years ago, when I was a single guy watching those early short films on Saturday Night Live and even before that with his very quirky standup appearances on variety shows. By the time he started showing up in George Clooney movies and voicing animated fish, my wife was won over, but not with The Muse.
Maybe it has to do with the comment she made early on during our repeat viewing: "I would like that job," she said in reference to Sharon Stone's role as Muse to Albert's struggling screenwriter. She went on from there to comment on how she would rework details from set design to key story elements in order to bring her vision of a real and true Muse to life. Nothing corny or roller disco about this one. I listened to her go on for a few more minutes, and after Jeff Bridges' scene was over, we decided more or less mutually, to turn it off.
That's when I started thinking about the nature of the Muse, and how this story was really quite accurate. The idea that you could simply invite a Muse into your life and expect that things would proceed in an orderly and predictable pace seems ridiculous from the start. This is where the comedy starts. Albert Brooks knew this, and mined that vein. If you expect to have a loving and supportive relationship at all times with your Muse, you should probably stick with Xanadu. Even Olivia Newton John had her moments of instability. Gene Kelly got it.
Meanwhile, back to that late night where my wife and I were disagreeing about this movie. We have both stayed up late or woken up early to wrestle with an idea that has come to us and we just couldn't shake it. We have both sat in front of blank pages, waiting for that spark and nothing comes. It is a stroke of genius on my wife's part to choose as her next career option to be that spark. And, of course, it was long after she had fallen asleep that it occurred to me that she had done just that for me. Here I was, wrestling with this notion that would eventually become this blog, and there she was, resting peacefully. Clever girl.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Ultimate Price Deferred

In Missouri, the "Show Me State," there was an execution last week. John Middleton was put to death for the murders of three people nearly twenty years ago. Middleton claimed that he was innocent. He and his lawyers also claimed that he was mentally incompetent. Neither of these assertions were enough to keep him from from receiving a lethal injection on Wednesday night. In the big book of eye-for-an-eye accounting, he only had to die once for the three murders. Maybe this will make up for the occasional "oops" when the occasional innocent gets executed for the occasional bad evidence or occasional mishandled defense.
That's the way these things work, you know. We have to make examples of those we want to teach that killing is wrong. So wrong, in fact, that we will kill them just to prove that point. Unless that killing turns out to be arbitrary and plagued by delays. That is what is happening in California, according to a federal judge. That Californians might have been doing something unconstitutional like cruel and unusual punishment comes as something of a revelation. Even though it has been eight years since the last execution in the Golden State, it's not like we've been out of the game. There are currently seven hundred and forty-eight prisoners scheduled to die on the obviously named Death Row in California. Forty percent of those inmates have been awaiting their ultimate penalty for more than nineteen years.
That's about how long it took to get John Middleton killed. The irony being that if the California ruling had come a few days earlier, it might have been used by clever lawyers to create a new appeal for this former methamphetamine dealer. It probably will be used by clever lawyers for other Death Row inmates across the country now. They won't have to die. They'll get to spend a lot more time in courtrooms, or at least their lawyers will. Which is kind of like getting away with murder. Except for that whole life in prison thing.
Here's what Judge Carney wrote about the promise of a death penalty: “for too long now, the promise has been an empty one,” and the result is “a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed.” Arbitrary death sounds like a bad idea. Like it should be against the law. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kids Will Be Kids

So if your friend told you to jump off the Empire State Building, would you? If your friend told you to walk across the desert and into a foreign country to get a chance a better life, would you? What if it was your parents and family doing the daring? All the kids crossing our southern border took that dare. Fifty-two thousand of them since October. Our president has called this "an urgent humanitarian crisis." When I think about urgent humanitarian crisis, I don't tend to think about this continent. I think about places like Syria. Or Somalia. Texas? California? Land of the free, home of the brave? Wouldn't we expect the United Nations to set up shop in Granjeno, Texas?
In a word: No. We're stuck trying to figure out how to save children while maintaining border security. Ours is a nation of immigrants, after all, and we can't just turn our backs on the plight of kids pouring over our border, can we? Maybe we can. Our president would like to step up the deportation process, seeing as how those clever little nippers figured out a loophole in our immigration policy: it says that kids from Mexico have to go back immediately, but those from countries farther south like Honduras, and El Salvador require a court hearing. Fifty-two thousand of them? While the powers that be scramble about trying to get those scheduled, what happens to all those kids?
Many of them are turned over to family who have already crossed the border and are living in the United States. Many of them will stay right where they are, on Air Force bases and converted shelters, until America figures out what to do. But why should we? "Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death," that's what (according to Lou Reed) the Statue of Bigotry says. That may sound a little rough, but compared to the voices of many of our countrymen, it's not so bad. Something everyone seems to agree on: It's our president's fault. He is, after all, the guy in charge. Not the guy who signed the legislation back in 2008 that "enforces our laws and upholds our highest ideals." That guy really ought to be run out of town.
Oh wait, we already did that.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Left Behind

My left side has taken a little bit of a beating over the past week. It started with the tetanus shot. To be specific, this was a DTAP vaccine or diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine, allowing me to step on rusty nails as well as wandering among those with whooping cough and sick lungs without fear of lockjaw or something worse. But first I had to live through the injection. When the cheerful technician approached me with the needle, she said that it probably wouldn't hurt much. Not the first day, anyway. She did let me know that it would make my shoulder sore in a few days. She wasn't lying. No diphtheria, tetanus, or pertussis, but I couldn't lift my left arm over my head. At least she wasn't lying.
Then, after I had recovered somewhat from the injection trauma, I found myself back at Kaiser, waiting for my appointment. This one was for the flange of flesh that had been poking into the left corner of my mouth for a long time. I wanted to be able to give the very friendly doctor who came to look at my flange some sort of exact time, but I couldn't remember when it wasn't there. It hadn't always been there. I wasn't born with it. "Did you bite your lip really hard at some point?" asked the friendly doctor.
"I may have. I just don't remember when," I was trying to come up with an incident to report that would make this little flap of flesh seem significant. It wasn't. Unless you happen to be my dentist or hygienist, who have been pestering me about this oral occlusion every six months for the past eight or so years.
"You know, you've got Kaiser. You could just have them lop it off during an office visit," they encouraged. Matter of fact. Snip. Done. Then they wouldn't have to work around this five millimeter nub every time they wanted to root around in my mouth looking for other more serious problems.
For years, I put it off. This past week, when I visited my doctor, she noticed that I needed to update my DTAP, and then she asked if I had any health concerns. I thought about all the dents and dings my body had endured over the past fifty-two years, and I came up with the mouth nub. She made a quick call, booked an appointment, and then sent me downstairs to get my DTAP booster. Then I waited for my return engagement.
"What are you going to do?" I asked the friendly doctor, after he had consulted with his older colleague who was every bit as friendly.
"We're going to numb it up," he said approaching with another needle, "and then we're going to cut it off." After he set down the needle, he excused himself to go get a pair of scissors. When he returned, I was a little let down that there would be no lasers or liquid nitrogen or sutures. When it was over, I didn't feel a thing. No pain. No nub. Nothing. But I knew that my left side had been abused. All in the service of medical science.
Now I can't wait to go back to the dentist.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

If you give a mouse a cookie, he'll want a glass of milk to wash it down. If you give an ape an automatic weapon, he'll want hollow point ammunition to reload. I rushed out to the moving picture show to see the latest installment in the Planet of the Apes saga, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." It continues the cycle of time that I have been reviewing since the early seventies: The one in which super-intelligent chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas end up taking over the world, only to succumb to the very same frailties that were the undoing of their oh-so-human predecessors. For the record, I am as helpless in this matter of buying tickets to see the Apes movies as I am to buying the latest Stephen King novel. It wasn't a question as to when I was going to go see the latest chapter, but how many people I would drag along with me. This is the vortex of pop culture to which I continue to subject myself, my family, and my friends.
That said, what possible wrinkle could I expect this time, as I watched Caesar lead his simian army against the threat of extinction at the hands of a terrified and brutal band of human survivors? My wife, who chose not to go along with us on this trip down Hasslein's Time Curve already had her ideas, having seen the previews: "I'll bet there will be a bunch of monkeys with guns, trying to kill a bunch of humans with guns." She may have missed some of the nuanced bits of story and character, but pretty well captured the gist of what happened this time around. That's the thing about a time curve, it tends to bend around on itself and starts to repeat. The idea that Caesar would not take up arms against his oppressors seems like a pretty tough pitch in the offices of Twentieth Century Fox. Especially in the twenty-first century.
But there was something else, just below the text, what I'll refer to as "subtext." This was an anti-gun movie. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either. Al Gore's Internet is filling up with voices from both sides of the gun control issue, ready to take this summer's popcorn fest and turn it into a rallying cry for more or less guns. Pick a side: Apes or humans. Guns or no guns. It's a pretty simple conclusion to draw, but I confess on my initial viewing I was more caught up with the naming of the big orangutan Maurice and the search for further echoes of the original series. Apes will tend to get guns, and that's just the way this chunk of evolution works. Now, how are they going to work James Franco back into the sequel? And where is Ricardo Montalban? Back in the early 1970's, the kind of revolt we were watching was thinly veiled allusion to the unrest in our inner cities. That's why nervous executives asked the makers of "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" to add a poorly looped speech from that Caesar suggesting that it was time to let the fires burn out and for his ape supporters to put their guns down.
Ape shall not kill ape. We know that because that is what the Lawgiver taught us. Apes often kill humans. That's what sells tickets after all. But if the guns had just stayed locked up in the armory, whether at the end of "Dawn" or the climax of "Battle," could lives have been spared? Would we have needed to pry a rifle from Colonel Taylor's cold, dead hands? Or would he be more concerned with the paws of apes? Maybe we could all afford to be just a little more philoosphical. Science fiction gives us all a chance to reflect on our current reality, with an eye to possible futures. Do we want to live in a world where apes have automatic weapons? Maybe DEVO was right about everything.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Saving Mister Banks

I just read an article that suggests that middle school should be abolished. The fact that it appeared on the always suspect "Daily Beast" site should give us all pause before continuing to simply fall into a pool of rabid ascent or denial. This is an idea that is meant to stir things up. Just like other posts recommended by The Beast, this is more of an incitement, a call to virtual arms. Arms that the author expects us to be up in arms with him. "Him" being David Banks, the President and CEO of Eagle Academy. If that title sounds a little odd for somebody as involved in education. It's not "teacher" or "principal" or even "head of department." Chief Executive Officer? What sort of corporation is he running out there in The Bronx, New York.
One that wants to do away with middle school. That's apparent. From the business end of things, it makes sense to cut out the middle men, boys and girls. Middle school, as he suggests in his article is neither fish nor fowl, and therefore carries the limitations of both without many of the advantages. The biggest challenge to making a middle school work isn't the curriculum or the staff, I feel. The hardest obstacle to overcome is the students themselves. As Mister Banks points out in the article, "hormones rage." Developmentally, it is almost impossible to get any education done while bodies and minds make the lycanthropic transition from children to teenager. Those formative years are a train wreck. How can we expect academic success from a group of kids who are peeling their way out of their slimy cocoons, on their way in no predetermined rush to adulthood?
I was one of those slimy lycanthopic messes, once upon a time. I benefited from many of the suggestions Mister Banks makes. The idea that there needs to be clear expectations for staff and students is not a new one, however. The notion that middle schools are a costly burden to taxpayers is. That is precisely the kind of educational reform that plays so well with voters who don't have a child in middle school or on the way there. It's a way to streamline the educational process in a very businesslike way. It makes sense from that fiscal standpoint, but continues to leave out the glaring disconnect: Why would it work any better to leave the kids in elementary school for another year or two, or to rush them up the developmental hill to high school?
I'm a teacher of kids right up to middle school, who i then cast out into that cold and unforgiving world of tweendom. Really? No. Part of the process of teaching any grade is the preparation of students for what comes next. Even if you're getting your students ready for the rigors of first grade, graduate school or a career in the custodial arts, it's our job to make sure they are ready. That doesn't mean just test scores, that means emotional well-being. It would be simple enough to just house these hormonal cases in a warehouse for two or three years until the tides of puberty have ebbed to the point that each individual could be released from their stasis pod and returned to the rigors of academia. But that isn't the world in which we live. This is the world where we need to meet the kids where they live. We need to address their needs, not the needs of the corporation. This is public education, not a profit-loss statement. Would it make sense to have more K-8 or K-12 schools? You bet, but I will tell you that it will still take the extraordinary individual to deal with those curious and sticky middle years. Good luck to us all in that endeavor.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Call It "Free" Agency?

Why shouldn't LeBron James play wherever he wants? If he can make more money in Cleveland than he can in Miami, more power to him, right? Why not sell his services and talents as a basketball force of nature to the highest bidder? This is the world in which we live. The Wide World of Sports. And Money.
Four years ago, King James left Cleveland, where he had played for the Cavaliers without winning any championships. He drew great ratings for sitting down with sportscaster Jim Gray and chatting about all the places where he might go to win many championships. After some thirty minutes of discussion, James arrived at his "decision." The Miami Heat was the team for him, and the folks in South Florida rejoiced. The basketball savior had arrived. In Cleveland, a city sports triumphs have conspicuously avoided for more than fifty years, fans were not so happy. Angry. Vindictive. Even vengeful. The rich, it seemed, were getting richer and Clevelanders were going to spend another half century waiting for the Indians or the Browns to come up with some way to bring a trophy home.
For four years, LeBron played his best for the fans in Miami. He helped his team win two NBA championships in what seemed like decisive fashion. Just like he said he would. But a funny thing happened this past year: the rest of the National Basketball Association kept playing even when it seemed as if the rest of the world was content with simply handing over the hardware to The Big Three, even though common practice is to put five players on the court for each team. That is precisely what the San Antonio Spurs did this season when they quite handily beat the Heat and those Big Three in five games. Suddenly, the Decision didn't seem too clever after all.
While San Antonio celebrated their championship, The King started making other plans. He had become a free agent, and it was time to pick a new place to go and win. The basketball world was suddenly in a tizzy once again, trying to anticipate where LeBron James would land. Like Oddyseus, James decided to return home not to Ithaca, but to Cleveland. Just like the Browns found their way back when the NFL felt a wave of sympathetic nostalgia and rewarded The Forest City a replacement franchise for the one that was taken from them by unscrupulous owners in 1995.
In 1995, LeBron James was eleven years old, a very impressionable age. It could be that it was during those formative years that he determined a path for himself in professional sports based on the model he was presented with by Art Modell. The Browns didn't really come back to Cleveland. They turned into the Ravens and they won a Super Bowl. Two of them. The New Browns have been to the playoffs, but still no championship. It's still Cleveland. Now LeBron James makes his triumphant return, pockets a little more full, and fans mostly forgiving. But not me. I'm still stuck trying to explain to kids who, at eleven years old, have decided to give up on school to play in the NBA. Just like LeBron. And that all worked out for him, didn't it?

Monday, July 14, 2014

All Star Break

Being a baseball fan on the left side of the country can be a pretty happy ride. Over the past few years, there have been a couple World Series parades, and plenty of playoff games played between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's. It's a pretty satisfying time right now, what with the no-hitter from Tim Lincecum and the A's roaring through the first half of the season with organized baseball's best record, it's hard to imagine how this couldn't be our national pastime.
Unless you've been reading any other section of the paper beyond the sports page. This past week, a judge ruled that the Los Angeles Dodgers must pay Giants fan Bryan Stow fifteen million dollars for their part of an incident three years ago that left Mister Stow in a wheelchair. That incident was off the field, after the game, in a parking lot, but the jury found that the Dodgers' lax security was to blame for the attack visited upon Stow after the season opener in 2011. Certainly there have been times when being a fan of any team is a lonely proposition, but it should never be a dangerous one. As one of the very few Denver Broncos fans in the heart of Silver and Black Oakland Raiders territory, I have felt nervous at times donning my orange and blue, but nothing like what Bryan Stow must have felt way back then. Permanent disability should not be part of the ticket price.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the state, the San Francisco Giants are considering a ban on "culturally insensitive attire" at AT&T Park. A couple of weeks ago, at AT&T Park’s Native American Heritage Night, two groups of fans had a disagreement over the issue of what should and shouldn't be worn. The San Francisco Examiner reported two Native American fans asked a third fan, who appeared to be Caucasian, to remove a headdress he was wearing. If you're getting a totally Northern California vibe from this proposal, you win the kewpie doll
Meanwhile, across the bay, the Oakland Athletics continue to play their games in the house that Al Davis built, or at least added on over the past twenty years, until it can barely support its own fans. Toilets overflow, and the lights won't always stay on. As for cultural sensitivity, Oakland lets the guys from Green Day throw out the first pitch. How much more sensitive can you get? 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What's The Point?

The subtitle of this blog is "Short Attention Span Theater." It's a borrow from the title of a TV series that used to show up on Comedy Central back in the early nineties. It made sense to me, as I started writing down what was on my mind on any given day, that I shouldn't ask for much more than that. There is still so much of Al Gore's Internet left to read, you shouldn't be stuck here too long, and truth be told, if there isn't something to grab you in the first few lines, you'll probably move on to the latest cat video. I can accept that. It's also true that if I take longer than a few lines to make my point, we've missed the connection.
If you're still reading this, then you understand my periodic and somewhat desperate need for an editor. If I would have opened by saying that I read in the news that Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO, had issued a memo about the future of the tech behemoth that he only recently took over. That memo was more than three thousand words long. For your personal reference, up until that last "long," you had read one hundred and ninety-one words. Satya did go on. Not that the vision of Microsoft's direction could be contained in a couple of paragraphs, but it's a fantastic thing that there are journalists and bloggers out there who would distill those ideas and plans for us. Mergers and acquisitions. He would also like us to know that this will be a very important time for his company. There will be a lot of discussion among his employees. Xbox is fine. Quit your belly-aching. Microsoft cares about you, the customer.
Or something like that. You could read the whole thing, if you had a mind to. But that's not really our nature, currently. Ever since Abe Lincoln whittled down his Gettysburg Address to some two hundred forty words, Americans have been anxious to get to the bottom line. "Shall not perish from this earth." It would fit much better in that crawl you see at the bottom the screen on CNN or just about every other broadcast finding its way into your home these days. Reading is fundamental, but let's be honest, if I went on too much longer about this particular bit, even if it mentioned that Microsoft was planning on giving away new versions of its operating system to those who have been silly enough to buy into that whole Windows 8 thing, you might just glaze over and assume that if it were really important, somebody would have tweeted it by now. 
Of course, they haven't, since that whole giveaway thing is nonsense, as is a great many things you can read on Al Gore's Internet. Which makes me wonder why Mister Nadella didn't slap that whole missive on a fun YouTube clip and be done with it. Four hundred ninety-seven.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Truth Hits Everybody

While vacationing in Boulder, I made a point of getting out early in the day to take a run. The Colorado sun was far less forgiving than the fog-shrouded mornings I have become accustomed to in California. I also found that I was covering larger chunks of road while I was away from my wife and son. There was nothing in particular for which I had to rush back. As long as I was available for meals, my mom would wait. I went North, South, and West. Then one morning I realized that I had callously overlooked the East.
By the fifth day, the altitude was no longer a concern, and so I headed down a trail near my mother's house with the expectation of seeing what there was to see. You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear. I saw the bright sun reflecting off the concrete that stretched out in front of me. I saw a few shadows on the path and breathed deep as I passed through them. I saw mothers pushing strollers. I saw boys and girls pedaling their bikes. I saw other hearty souls putting in a few miles before the summer heat overwhelmed us all. I saw a man up ahead walking his black lab. I chose to follow him.
I did have some sense of where I was headed. Though this path was new to me, I knew that I was headed away from the mountains and my mother's house. I knew I needed to return there eventually, which is why when I had almost caught up with the black lab and his master I chose to break off my pursuit of the east and turn back in the direction from whence I had come. That's when I realized where I was.
I was on a  road just behind Mountain View Cemetery. Not the one in Oakland, where I would be returning soon enough, but the one in Boulder. This was the one that truly had a view of the mountains: The Foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The gate was open. Normally, I don't run through cemeteries, since it strikes me as profoundly rude and disrespectful. But I have relatives here. I came to Boulder to be with my family. The gate was open. I ran in.
I made my way around the perimeter, and then to the center walkway, remembering all those Memorial Days that my brothers and I spent trailing after my mother as she moved from one grave to another, placing iris she had cut fresh from our own garden on those she wanted to memorialize. I tried to remember where those plates were. There were no headstones here, the markers were all set flat into the ground, so as not to obscure the mountain view. And suddenly, I looked down: there was my grandmother and grandfather, lying together even though the dates would separate them by many years. They had come to rest here, right at the corner, in the center. This told me what I had already half-remembered from stories I had heard as a kid. Grandpa was one of the first to be buried in this new place, across town from the old graveyard that was full of Boulder's Old West past. He was part of the new pioneers. The ones that were going to bring Boulder out of the second world war and into a new age of prosperity. He didn't really get that chance. He was gone before he got to take over the pharmacy at the new medical center. He left behind a wife and a daughter, my mother. I had stopped running. I stood there for a moment, and then bent down to pat the warm metal surface that carried his name next to his wife's. Good to tag off with you grandpa. Nice to see you too, grandma.
The heat of the day was coming, I could feel it on the back of my neck. I looked up at the mountains, and back down at my legacy. I bid them adieu and was off again, running back to the west.

Friday, July 11, 2014

I Wish That Lunch Could Last Forever

You may never have had that awkward moment of talking to someone you haven't seen in a while, and they ask if you want to get together, so you suggest having lunch. Picking that midday meal is the sure bet for containing the potential commitment of time and energy. If it all goes dumpy wrong or embarrassing, you can always look at your watch and say, "Oh, I've got to get going." Last week I had lunch with the woman I grew up with, the one I occasionally refer to as "my childhood sweetheart." I didn't have that awkward feeling. I felt the years melt away and remembered, upon her reference, that we had known each other since we were three. The reference was in regard to my ordering the barbecue brisket sandwich. "You can be as messy as you like," she assured me, "We've known each other since we were three."
And that's why the "childhood sweetheart" label is just a little unfair. It implies a limit to the relationship that never really existed. The fact that we were friends before the implication of boyfriends or girlfriends or K-I-S-S-I-N-G or trees was even a wisp of a notion. As we sat across the table from one another, catching up on the time we had spent being grownups, parents, married, changing jobs, we kept sliding back to the stories of that extraordinary youth we shared. We played together. Oh how we played. We used our imaginations. I told her how much I appreciated being allowed to participate in those games of make-believe that boys don't often get to: our front yards became horse pastures or German POW camps. We recreated all five of the Planet of the Apes movies in repertory, with periodic improvisation, but always with great reverence to the details. I got to pretend. We made up stories. There was an afternoon that, along with my younger brother, we imagined a story in which all the GI Joes came to life, armaments included and decided to take on these three youngsters whose parents had gone and left them for the night. Long before Toy Story, we created a tragic tale of playthings gone bad. Tragic because I insisted on writing myself a death scene, noble to the end where I saved my friends by sacrificing myself. It's where I began to feel like a writer inside.
And there were still more stories to tell, so many in fact that she admonished me, when we began the second hour of holding down our table at the outdoor cafe, "I'm going to the bathroom. Stay right there." She needn't have worried. I was happy to stay if only for the incredible comfort I felt as I mined our collective reality. A reality that didn't feel constrained by age or youth. It just was. We talked about our kids and our spouses and the jobs we do and the history we shared and how it made us what we are today: Friends. When I realized that we had held down our table for more than two hours, our waitress had stopped coming by to refill our iced tea glasses, I felt the social cue to move the party elsewhere. But life intrudes and we really didn't have forever. Sooner or later the restaurant police would show up and ticket us for loitering or one of us would get a call from the cell phones that we never used to carry when we spent all those hours walking our dogs together or creating new variations on episodes of Hogan's Heroes. She drove me back to my mother's house, where she came in and we shared another flurry of reminiscences. It made me think of all the people in my life who had drifted away, I let them go. I wouldn't let her go. She's a keeper.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Future Shock

"In the not too distant future," those words have put a chill in my spine for about as long as I've been alive. Of course, that future has shifted over those years. The very idea that a movie would call itself "Frankenstein 1970" meant that there was a potential for a mad scientist to create life from his wicked and crazy experiments was a possibility. The fact that the movie was made in 1958 and I watched it the first time in 1968 didn't keep me from being frightened of that potential. Seven years later, I was convinced that it was only a short hop, skip and a roll before we would all adopt Rollerball as our planet's pastime. This was just a few years after I had to reckon with the notion that the progenitor of a race of super-intelligent apes had already arrived and the clock was ticking on the whole human race as the dominant species. 
But these are just movies, right? Imagine my surprise when I opened up the article about Louis Del Monte, who has this to say: "Today there's no legislation regarding how much intelligence a machine can have, how interconnected it can be. If that continues, look at the exponential trend. We will reach the singularity in the timeframe most experts predict. From that point on you're going to see that the top species will no longer be humans, but machines." He wrote a book called "The Artificial Intelligence Revolution: Will Artificial Intelligence Serve Us Or Replace Us?" and it's got a lot of science in it, but he insists it's not science fiction. He points to studies that suggest that machines are already becoming self-aware, or at least capable of lying and being concerned with self-preservation. Del Monte says, "By the end of this century most of the human race will have become cyborgs. The allure will be immortality. Machines will make breakthroughs in medical technology, most of the human race will have more leisure time, and we'll think we've never had it better. The concern I'm raising is that the machines will view us as an unpredictable and dangerous species." If this all sounds a little like the work or Doctor Charles Forbin or Miles Dyson, feel free to go ahead and change the channel. For me? The future is now

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Target Shooting

You probably won't be able to find a well-regulated militia at your local Target store, even if you have a coupon. That's not because of the inherent irony of a store called "Target" selling nothing more powerful than a Nerf dart gun, but mostly because the folks at one of this nation's largest retailers is "respectfully requesting" that their customers leave their guns at home. From their corporate web site: "...starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law." What sort of world are we living in when a discount store has to tell its customers that they don't need to pack heat when they stop by to pick up some new lawn chairs or charcoal briquettes before the next barbecue? The sort of world where citizens feel the need to exert their constitutional rights in increasingly bizarre ways. The number of armed incidents inside Target stores isn't necessarily on the uptick but those who feat that their Constitutional rights are being infringed want us to know that they need to be able to defend themselves at all times, even while shopping in the Health and Beauty aisle. 
Or even when they're taking the family out for a soft taco at their nearest Chipotle Mexican Grill. The powers that be at this chain has also made a respectful request of their patrons, since "the display of firearms in our restaurants has now created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers." Not just handguns, by the way. Assault rifles. Loaded. "Just to prove a point." So here's the crazy part, to me anyway: Neither store is making a rule against bringing guns into their stores. They're asking nicely. Probably because they know the storm that would be stirred by making that kind of demand. Next thing you know, they'll be insisting that you can't yell "Fire" in a crowded Starbucks, mostly because somebody with an itchy trigger finger might pop off a couple rounds before flames caught up to their grande mocha latte. 
That's okay, since there's still a place where you can go where people know your name and the Second Amendment: Rifle, Colorado. There is a tavern called "Shooter's Grill" where patrons are encouraged to bring their shootin' irons. Their special includes a gun training course in addition to the baby back ribs. Of course, this makes mountains more sense in a town called "Rifle" in a restaurant called "Shooters." I guess Target just missed their marketing opportunity.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Must Be The Altitude

That used to be something else. This is the hardest part about growing up, and it's also the hardest part about going home again. I call Oakland "home," but I grew up somewhere else, and it's not there anymore. Well, it is, but it isn't. The fact that the gas station that used to sit on the corner adjacent to Arby's at which I worked so many years ago is now a pot shop is just one of the confounding juxtapositions that have occurred in my most recent return to the city at the base of the Rocky Mountains: Boulder.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that my youthful stomping grounds have evolved in ways that I might not have anticipated when I left. Twenty-two years ago is a long time for things to stay the same. It's plenty long enough, for example, for a state to pass legislation that makes buying and selling marijuana legal. It's long enough for more than a dozen different recreational and medicinal shops have opened within the city limits for the discerning pot-buyer. It's very different from when I was a kid, and I had to find this guy "Jim," who I didn't know but my friend knew and he was going to take us to a place where he was pretty sure a guy would probably sell us some pot if we had whatever it was that he might end up charging us. It was a deal. We were making a deal. And it was scary.
Okay, in retrospect, it wasn't that scary because it was in Boulder, Colorado after all and cannabis wasn't really that hard to find. It just felt that way when I was in college. But that was the way we used to start weekends: procuring liquor and drugs. You knew it was going to be a tough weekend if you got all the way to Saturday night and all you had to show for your efforts was a twelve-pack of Miller Lite in the refrigerator. What I'm suggesting is that the adventure was in the procurement, and now that the hunt has been taken out of the equation, I wonder what the underclassmen busy themselves with on those Friday afternoons.
Maybe they're studying. Maybe they're reflecting on the way that outdated dogma kept an absurd distinction between depressants in place for far too long. Or maybe they're wondering what changes are taking place in their own home towns.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Hard Word

What does it mean to say goodbye? I am thinking of all those times I have heard people say, "Let's not say goodbye, let's just say..." And they insert some foreign phrase or polite substitute that doesn't carry the psychic weight of that one compound word: Goodbye. It has come to be such a final thing. I don't want to say goodbye to anyone, just in case we happen to cross paths again. Especially awkward are those moments when you part from someone and then you end up going in the same direction for another block or two, and you have to make that choice: Should I continue to bid them farewell, or will that initial parting be sufficient until I meet them again in some officially recognized capacity?
I am awful at partings, which is why this haunts me so. I either make a great show of leaving, or try and get out undetected. But since I'm such a fan of summing things up, I often feel compelled to get that last word in, just keeping in mind that it almost certainly should not be "goodbye." What? Like we're never going to see each other again? Is that what you mean?
No, although I wish there was a way that we could impart that meaning in some civilized fashion without swinging too far across on the rude pendulum. I'm thinking specifically of telemarketers and customer service people. Faceless personages who will almost certainly cease to be of any use to me, in spite their insistence at the beginning of the call that I we address one another as if we should be on a first name basis. This could even extend to the waiter at that restaurant you're never going back to: "Hi, I'm John and I'll be your waiter this evening." When I finish my meal, I want to tell John that no matter how much I enjoyed his description of the specials and the extra fork he brought me that this is Goodbye. We are done. It's not out of spite or any sort of class distinction, I'm through. I'm gone. Goodbye.
Which may point out a flaw in our over-friendly consumer culture. All those name tags and obsequious introductions mean we have to sever those connections at some point. I'm sorry, Chad, but even though you gave me superb attention the whole time I was in your aisle at Best Buy, I have to move on with my life. Maybe I'm just overly sensitive because my father was the type of guy who never said goodbye to anyone. Even when he split from my mother, he kept calling her and chatting about this and that. He would not let go. Letting go has never been one of my best things, but I have learned how to leave a place. Even thought I do tend to find my way back again, with an eye out for John or Chad in case they're still working there, I like the idea that I can be finished. As terrifying as it may be, I look forward to those opportunities to say goodbye. I promise to be happy to see you when we meet again. Now stop following me.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Real Fake

One of the sad duties I have to perform as an elementary school teacher is to give my young charges the occasional reality check. This comes out most often when the discussion turns to wrestling. "Professional Wrestling." I like to tell them that I am very impressed by the athleticism on display, but these guys aren't wrestling as much as they are hurling their bodies about the squared circle to the delight of fans from five to one hundred and five. It's not wrestling.
"But Mister Caven," they insist, "what about when Kane made the Undertaker bleed?"
I remind them that, as nine and ten year-olds, they should be familiar with fake blood.
"What about when John Cena hit that guy with a chair?"
Did you ever see a movie where the bad guy got hit with a chair? Do you think they really did that?
"But he was knocked out!"
You don't think he was faking, do you?
And so it goes. Nearly twenty years after I started, I'm still poking holes in the fascination bubbles of young men and their heroes. When I started, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was just "The Rock." He's had time to go out and have a movie career and come back to the ring as a conquering hero. I try not to rub kids' noses in the levels of reality this asks them to comprehend. Do they think that Mister Johnson was off in the desert really being the Scorpion King, or was he pretending? Did he miss all those matches because of his other job as an FBI agent furiously chasing fast Vin Diesel?
Okay, maybe I should lighten up. I'm not giving away any of the Easter Bunny, Santa or Tooth Fairy secrets. Why should I busy myself trying to diminish the joys of fourth graders? Maybe it's because of the years I spent learning how to wrestle, for real. The blood I spilled from a broken nose, for real. And the number of chairs I used against opponents: zero. I guess I could offer up more of my personal perspective rather than making fun of their heroes. I could relax and let them have their joy.
I could, but I probably won't. It strikes me in the same muscle that is affected when a student looks up at me and asks if there is such a thing as Bloody Mary. Or Big Foot. The world is crazy enough all on its own without having to worry about ghosts being conjured up from a bathroom mirror or a hairy seven foot tall simian who has a thing for beef jerky. Come to think of it, Randy "Macho Man" Savage was pretty furry, and he sure liked his Slim Jims. And he was real, right?

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Spoiler Alert!

Okay, so you got this far. The title didn't keep you from reading the rest of this post, so I'll assume you're the devil-may-care type who likes to dance on the leading edge of popular culture. You want to know what's new before it's new. You don't want to hear about what happened at the water cooler on Monday morning, you want to be there on Friday afternoon when they're delivering the water and the guy who drives the truck saw a rough cut of the latest blockbuster at a screening for guys who drive water trucks and he can tell you that the big news is that Optimus Prime flies. I know, right?
Never mind that that whole robot that turns into a truck thing was pretty spectacular, and if you drove a water truck for a living you might periodically fantasize about how that truck could turn into a giant robot to help you unload those great heavy bottles of water. And defend humanity against the threat of other robots that turn into household appliances and very expensive cars. Which is just great, since the threat of being overwhelmed and destroyed by a race of giant robots that have a penchant for turning into everyday objects has never been greater. It does make me wonder, however, why the fact that their leader has been hiding this rather impressive light under a barrel. Optimus Prime can fly.
If you were the leader of a group of giant robots who landed here on earth and weren't necessarily geared toward global domination or destruction, it makes sense that you might want to remain discrete. If your version of discrete includes showing up as a Peterbilt 379 truck with flames painted on the cab. He's a robot in disguise, get it? If he showed up as a space shuttle or a Boeing Dreamliner, it would be such a giveaway. Talk about your spoiler alerts.
If I had known that the dinosaurs got loose before I went to see Jurassic Park, I think I still would have gone. Twenty-five years ago, Michael Keaton let slip in an interview with David Letterman that it was the Joker who killed Bruce Wayne's parents, they still managed to sell some tickets. I was one of those who waited in line. I still wanted to see it. I can't say that I felt the same way when I saw Optimus Prime fly. My son points out, correctly, that the leader of the Autobots has flown before, but I argued that it took a special expansion trailer that he had to have nearby so that he could, well, fly. The fact that this is something that I would spend any time at all discussing should make clear that I am that person sitting in front of his computer waiting for the latest news on the Hulk's new purple pants and the search for just the right Aquaman. How can this possibly matter?
Why, in a world torn by religious and racial tension, with economic and ecological catastrophes occurring with frightening regularity, would I spend any time at all worrying about giving away secrets about a movie depicting the exploits of giant robots who were sent here ostensibly to save us from ourselves? Because, if any of this turns out to be some sort of wild coincidence or conspiracy, it could be very important inside information to know that Optimus Prime can fly.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Keep It On The Download

Okay, I own a bunch of DVDs. I don't watch them. I used to own a bunch of laserdiscs. I don't watch them anymore because I replaced them all with the DVDs that I am no longer watching. Those laserdiscs were a replacement for the shelves full of VHS tapes that I had collected for years before that. My love of movies has been expensive. I currently have nearly the maximum number of cable TV channels that will show me movies, most of which I have seen before. I take great comfort in re-watching films I have seen and enjoyed. I like to keep my old friends close by.
That's why I am so intrigued and pleased with the idea of streaming video. Every film ever made is just sitting out there somewhere on a hard drive, waiting to find its way into my home for one more showing. That's what Netflix will do for anyone who subscribes to their service. Push that button or click that mouse and your favorite movie will start right up. You don't have to wait by your mailbox for a disc in an envelope. You don't have to remember to return anything. And you can watch it a whole boatload of times before your twenty-four hours rental is done. If that's not enough, just push the button and again and invite it back for a second straight day of binge-watching.
Sounds too good to be true, right? That's because it pretty much is. Netflix has done my family the huge favor of bringing back "Arrested Development" for their victory lap of a season, after we had greedily consumed all the previous episodes the summer before. Then they came out with a batch of their own shows that were so very good that new subscribers lined up online to be a part of the fun. Until now. Now that Netflix has decided to remove all the Rocky films from its downloadable content. Even the good ones. They're also getting rid of Taxi Driver. And a whole lot of of other films that you and I might get a wild hair and decide we could enjoy watching tonight. Or next week. Oscar winners. Bond films. Treats and trash that now we'll have to wait for Encore or Cinemax or HBO to get around to plugging into their rotation.
Or I could head out to Best Buy and dig around in the bargain bins of antiquated digital media. Or I could just close my eyes and replay "Wrath of Khan" in my mind.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

One Court's Opinion

I was making a left turn off of a busy street onto a side street on my bike, when I noticed that a motorist who was trying to turn left onto that busy street from the side street was lurching forward, then stopped short as he noticed me making my way through the intersection. Passing by the driver's side, he rolled down the window and hollered at me, "You are not a car!"
He was right, you know. I was not a car, even though I was afforded many of the same rights and privileges of a motorized vehicle, I was not a car. Nor was I an elephant, but the list of things I wasn't might have become too lengthy to discuss at that particular juncture so I let it pass. It was this interaction, however, that came into mind as I heard about the Supreme Court's ruling on companies opting out of the contraception portion of the Affordable Care Act. It was, at its heart, a reminder of the row over Citizen's United and corporate personhood. These great, big, multi-headed people with more money than most moderately sized single-headed people can now decide which services their employees can access based on their religious beliefs. If you're having trouble with this one, keep reminding yourself that corporations are people and that people have religious beliefs, especially when they have fiscal realities tied to them.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a thirty-five page dissenting opinion, the one that suggested that maybe the majority of her Justice Buddies may have had it wrong: "Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?  There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts 'out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,' or the sincerity with which an asserted religious belief is held. Indeed, approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude. The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield." 
Or, for the purposes of my metaphor, into a busy intersection.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Rock On

A long time ago, in a galaxy much like this one, since it is this one, I read a review of a DEVO show that included a pithy comment about there being no guitar solos at a DEVO concert. As a fan, I took immediate exception to this since I was aware of at least one from the show the reviewer was referencing, and have always enjoyed the crunchy guitar riffs of Bob Mothersbaugh. While I understand that the public at large will remember the DEVO's catalog as synth-heavy, that's not what I recall.
Maybe that's why I so thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Spudboys from Akron on their Hardcore Tour last week. They only played songs from their earliest recordings, some forty years ago. Yes, there were some keyboards, but mostly they were playing drums and guitars in new and confounding ways, like their cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." As they have related for years in interviews, they made it hard for themselves to get booked into bars that were looking for bands that sounded like Foghat. They sure didn't look like Foghat. I never went to see Foghat play live. I've been going to see DEVO when they came to my town for more than thirty years.
I wore my souvenir T-shirt from that first show when I went with my wife and son to see what was more than just a revival, it was a memorial. The other Bob in DEVO, Bob Casale, had passed away earlier this year and the tour was organized as a tribute to him and part of the proceeds were being passed along to his family. I was pleased and happy to support the cause, though it was odd to see just four members of the band on stage. DEVO waited until the very last song of the show to mention Bob 2's absence, and when they played "Clockout," they invited Bob's son Alex out to play bass as his father had so many years ago. Mark played keyboards. Jerry sang. Alan Myers wasn't there to play drums, having left the planet just ahead of Bob 2 on their tour of the universe. Josh Freese was behind the kit, as he has been for almost twenty years. And Bob 1 was playing guitar. In their own peculiar way, they rocked the house. I don't remember the synths. I remember the guitars.